Attachment and Pain

A few years back I went to a Russel Delman's workshop called "The Embodied Life."  He is a well known Feldenkrais teacher as well as a Zen medication teacher.  One thing I learned from the workshop has stuck to me even today is that attachment is the source of our sufferings. What this means is that when our mind gets stuck in the past or the future, we're not living in the moment and start thinking about all sorts of things that could hurt you.  For example, a man who was once a star football player sustained a career ending injury that caused him to live with wheelchair for the rest of his life.  He who still identifies him self as a star football player cannot acknowledge who he is now.  He's depressed because he's lost his identity.  His mind is attached to his past.  He's psychologically hurt and will continue to feel this pain until he accepts the fact that he's not a football player now and accepts who he is, which means his mind is no longer stuck in the past.

When it comes to physical pain, this attachment or association happens.  Let's say you hurt your back when you bend over to pick up something from the floor.  Your nervous system recorded such an event.  Your back has healed after a little while and you can bend over again without any pain but are conscious of the trauma.  Several months later you hurt your back again doing the same movement.  Your nervous system now made a note that bending over movement hurt your back and attached/associated these two things (bending over movement=pain).  Even after a while your back pain is easily triggered by simple bending over movement though your back has healed just fine.  This is actually fairly common.  I was working with one lady who had multiple shoulder surgeries, and she couldn't do hardly anything with one arm because of pain.  Everything hurt.  I was explaining about one shoulder movement and she suddenly screamed and said that as soon as she imagined doing that movement her pain level jumped.  Her nervous system attached/associated any arm movements with pain so well and became so sensitized that imagining doing arm movements was enough to trigger pain.  I had her imagine arm movement several times, and that consistently increased her pain.

 Pretty interesting stuff, isn't it?  The brain is so powerful.  To reverse this process, which unfortunately takes longer, you have to teach your nervous system to detach/disassociate these two.  One way of doing this is to create new options for movement.  In new movement options the nervous system hasn't made any attachment/association yet, so you'll have a pretty good chance to move into the position that you wouldn't be able to with the old pathway that the nervous system associated with pain. When the nervous system "sees" that you somehow got to the position without pain, it starts to question the validity of the statement it's made in the past.  This is a very simplistic way of explaining this phenomenon, but I think this is one of the reasons why people with chronic pain have a very good luck with Feldenkrais Method.  It's really helping their nervous system to rewire itself and change how they feel.  Let's learn to let go of your habitual ways of moving, sensing, feeling, and thinking with Awareness Through Movement class and have free choice in your actions.

Movement Matters

Let me share why i care so much about movement.  Just as a side note, the only thing I care just as much, if not more is food.  I can literally talk/think about food all day.  Oh, I didn't forget about my family, of course not.  They are the number 1!  

Anyway, back to the main topic.  I entered a healthcare/fitness profession because I wanted to help people just like most other people.  My goal/mission as a movement educator/therapist is just one simple thing:  To help people become happier.  If my clients are happier at the end of session than when they came, I know I've done something good.  I understand there are many ways to do that, but why movement??  I believe movement is essential to our life. Everything we do has something to do with movement.  When I say movement, I don't mean exercise. Without movement babies would not be able to recognize his own body and how he relates to the world.  Movement is directly related to our life.  We would not be able to eat without moving.  We would not be able to laugh without moving.  We would not be able to cry without moving.  We would not be able to breathe without moving, so we would be dead without movement.  Because it has such a direct influence on our life, it provides an entry point for possibilities for changes, for better or worse.  I definitely try to take an advantage of this entry point to make a positive shift for myself and my clients.  So let's move better, feel better, and live happier!

Self-image and Habits

What is Self-Image?  One of the main objectives in Feldenkrais Method is to improve one's self-image/awareness.  Moshe Feldenkrais said "we act in accordance with our self-image, which consists of sensing, feeling, thinking, and moving."  He thought these 4 aspects of self-image are interrelated, and a change in one aspect would influence the other 3.  He believed that it's necessary to improve self-image/awareness in order to improve human functioning, and the easiest way to do that is by working with movement.  Changes in movement can be easily observed unlike emotion, thought, or sensation.  You'll be asked to observe all 4 aspects of self-image while you're guided through a sequence of movements in Feldenkrais lessons. During this process, you will discover your habits and how movement habits and emotional/intellectual habits are closely related, and when you discover new movement patterns, you will also discover how that will influence your feeling, sensing, and thinking.  You will eventually experience how mind and body are really inseparable.  They are the two sides of the same coin.

 I grew up in Japan where a holistic approach is quite common.  Although western medicine is more common now there, eastern medicine is still practiced.  The idea of mind-body connection is very old.  Yoga, Tai Chi, Zen, Judo, Aikido, and many more share the same idea.  I always believed in this idea, but it was just the idea in my mind as it wasn't tangible.  In a way, mind and body were still separate because it was just the idea (mind) and missing physical experience (body) for me.  After my first experience with Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement class, this idea immediately became real as it provided me kinesthetic experience of such relationship.  Trying to understand and appreciate this relationship without kinesthetic experience is like trying to learn how to ride a bicycle just by reading instructions or listening to someone's instructions without actually riding it.

SLOW DOWN

I have noticed that many people including myself have hard time moving slowly when we exercise. I so often have to remind my clients to slow their movement down many times.  I must admit that I had very very hard time to do that.  It took me a long time to learn that.  

I used to hate walking because it was too slow and boring.  I used to prefer running to walking. In the last few years I've learned the benefits of moving more slowly.  When we move fast, we access movement patterns that have been used many times, called habitual movement patterns.  We use the sub-conscious part of our brain, which responds very fast.  This is useful when we have to move quickly during emergency situations. However, when we're learning new movement patterns, we have to rely on different parts of our brain, conscious part of the brain, which acts much more slowly.  In order to allow us to access this part of the brain, we need to move much much more slowly.  If we move slowly, we won't bypass our sub-conscious part of the brain and inhibit habitual patterns.  This is one of the key principles in my movement re-education.  When someone keeps hurting because of their habitual movement patterns, they need to learn how to move differently.  If they try to move fast when learning to move in a different way, their habitual movement patterns keep interfering.  This is why it's a common practice for Tai Chi and Feldenkrais Method to move very slowly so they can pay attention to how they are moving and they can adjust their movements continuously.  I must tell you that this practice has completely changed the way I move and the way I work with my clients.  I've learned so much about how I move and definitely improved my movement quality.  By the way, the same mechanism applies to thinking, feeling, and sensing.  How we emotionally or intellectually react works much like our movements.  To break your habits, you'll need to SLOW DOWN.

Is Slouching Bad?

I often get asked this question by my clients:  Is slouching bad?  What do you think?  Somehow straight posture is considered ideal, and slouching posture is perceived as bad in out culture.  If you also think straight posture is good and slouching posture is bad, let me ask you why? If we never be allowed to slouch when we sit, we all would be healthier and pain free??  If you think bad posture is related to more pain, literature doesn't seem to agree with you.  We talk about posture a lot, but interestingly enough there's no literature that shows posture is related to pain.  

Let's say straight posture is ideal, so you decide to sit with perfectly straight posture.  How long do you think you can sit still perfectly?  Probably not very long.  After sitting for a long time, what do we do instinctively?  We get up and move, right?  This happens regardless of what position we are in because we're putting pressure on the same places all the time and compromising blood flow to those areas.  Straight posture may provide some advantages from a mechanical standpoint, but if you stay in the same position, you're compromising movement. The same thing for slouching posture.  If you're in the same slouching position, then there's no movement and stress is constantly placed on the same areas, even more in some areas than in straight posture.  Then you have exactly the same problem.  What would be healthier for our body is to create a habit of changing our positions frequently or moving frequently so we're distributing stress more evenly.  For this reason, I really emphasize creating more movement options so we don't get stuck in only one movement pattern.  

 

What is Feldenkrais Method®?

 

Click HERE for the description of the method by Feldenkrais.com.

You probably still have no idea what Feldenkrais Method is about after reading the description.  Let me share my experience.   About 6 years ago I was getting a bit frustrated at work as patients kept returning to us for similar problems (e.g., shoulder impingement, low back pain, neck pain, patello-femoral knee syndrome, etc).  I thought we did a pretty good job of teaching our patients about how to strengthen/stretch some muscles to solve their problems, yet they returned to us after a year maybe 2 years. I thought I "fixed" the problems by strengthening weak muscles and stretching tight muscles to restore their imbalance, but they apparently didn't get "fixed."   This observation made me very curious as to what's really the root of their problems.   Upon my research I found Feldenkrais Method several times.  The first time I saw the name, I didn't pay much attention.  After having seen the name several times, I had to do more research about it.  I read his books and read some articles, but I still didn't know what it was.  The only thing I knew was it had something to do with changing habits.  I thought habitual way of moving/using ourselves was the root of many problems my patients had.  One day I saw a weekend Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement workshop, and I decided to attend to experience it for myself.  My first experience was "Wow!! I don't feel pain anywhere in my body!!"  I always had some pain but I was so used to having pain that I forgot I had pain until my pain was gone.  I felt much taller and my body felt so much lighter and felt as if the gravity decreased.  The effect after my very first Awareness Through Movement lesson was so profound.  During the lesson I discovered how one body part connected to another body part and how they could work together to decrease stress on one part and distribute it to the whole body.  As a result, it felt so much easier to move.  I also discovered my movement habits, which of course I wasn't aware of until then.  My movement habits just like the majority of other people were such that I wasn't distributing work very well throughout my whole body.  At this moment I knew I found what I have been searching for.  This really allows us to discover the root of many problems (physical as well as psychological) we may be having and also discover new options so we don't get stuck in our habits.  Habits are useful as long as you know they are.  However, habits can sometimes create problems when we are not aware of them.  As Moshe Feldenkrais (the creator of Feldenkrais Method) said, "if you know what you are doing, you can do what you want."  

What is "Good Posture?"

I often get comments from my clients that I have a "perfect posture."  I always ask them what the "perfect posture" means, and many say it's perfectly straight.  So, straight posture=good posture??  From a perspective of Feldenkrais Method it is a place from which you can initiate action in any direction with minimal preparation.  You're basically ready to move any direction from ideal posture.  You're not holding tension and staying rigid.  I think people tend to confuse posture with position.  Position is static.  Posture is dynamic.  Posture is action.  Ideal posture should allow you to move more responsively.  In contrast, if you're rigid and holding yourself as straight as you can, you may appear to have a good posture, but you won't be able to move as quickly.  Not only that, you are straining muscles as you're making a lot of effort to maintain such a state.  Masters of Tai Chi or Aikido all demonstrate great posture if you watch them.  They're ready for actions.  They are not tense.  As a general rule, a good posture should never feel uncomfortable or tiring.  Awareness Through Movement class will give you an experience of what it feels to have "good posture" that feels natural and authentic.  

Less is More

Effort is generally encouraged in our culture.  No pain no gain mindset is still prevalent in health/fitness industry.  More effort doesn't necessarily result in more gains when it comes to rehab.  The reason for this is that trying harder will only exaggerate your habitual movement patterns.  If habitual movement patterns are contributing to repetitive stress injuries because of lack of movement variability, then increasing effort by increasing resistance or speed probably won't solve their problem(s).  Instead, when you reduce effort, you'll have a much better chance of improving in your movement ability as less effort allows the nervous system to recognize patterns of movement and learn more efficient movements.  This is why Feldenkrais Method, Tai Chi, Aikido all emphasize reduction of effort.  

Team Play

If you ever played a team sport, you know how important it is that each player contributes to a game to make a great team, right?  Even you have a very talented player on your team, it's very unlikely that your team will be good if only that one player works hard on the field/court.  This same principle applies to our movements.  For example, I worked with many clients with neck pain.  They had neck pain when they looked up or turned their head to look behind.  Most of the time they were mostly using their neck to orient head with very little movement in other parts of their body like mid back, shoulders/shoulder blades, ribs, hips, etc.  The neck was the only player contributing to the work, sort of, while other players were hanging out and watching the neck doing all hard work.  No wonder the neck got sore!!  Neck pain, low back pain, shoulder pain, knee pain, you name it, but it's very common that people violate the team play principle.  This is one of many principles taught in Feldenkrais Method & Martial Arts (Tai Chi Chuan, Aikido, Judo, etc).  Check out my Awareness Through Movement classes & one-on-one Movement Re-education session to work on your "Team Play" skill!

Product vs Process

In Feldenkrais Method, we learn how to create optimal learning conditions for our clients or create safe conditions for the nervous system so learning can take place organically.  We focus on creating a process that leads to their learning as opposed to giving them end products.  I believe learning occurs in the "process" of doing something instead of trying to achieve a "goal.".  Learning is not in the end products.  For example, a child works on a jigsaw puzzle for the first time, and h/she is given the final picture beforehand.  H/she knows exactly what h/she is going to get while putting together all pieces.  Another child doesn't know the end product and works on the same puzzle.  It may take a longer time for the second person to finish the puzzle, but what h/she will gain in terms of problem solving skills is much more than just finishing the puzzle. This analogy also applies to motor learning.  In typical exercise classes an instructor shows the end product then students will mimic the instructor.  Another example is that I have no sense of direction and so often I get lost, and also discovery new cool places by accident.  If I had known how to get to my destination precisely, I would not have found those cool places. In Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement classes, a teacher purposefully hide a destination (this sounds kind of mean, but we're not) to create a process where students will explore and discover something that they wouldn't if they knew the destination ahead of the time.

Let's get lost in Awareness Through Movement classes to discover something!

Movement and Cognition

Over the years I've observed how someone's physical state affects their psychological/emotional state.  When someone's mobility is compromised due to illness/injury and they become bed bound, pretty quickly their cognitive function seems to decline from my observation.  It does make sense from a neuroscience perspective because of all activities that take place in the brain when planning and executing motor actions.  I also noticed that people who have very sharp cognition tend to be physically active.  It makes sense why we can usually have better focus after exercising.  As Moshe Feldenkrais said, "Movement is life; without movement life is unthinkable."  Let's get moving!

Corrective exercise

As a healthcare professional, I was heavily trained in anatomy, kinesiology, and biomechanics and taught to assess movements/posture and identify dysfunctions/impairments then prescribe corrective exercises to "fix" their problems. Biomechanical ideals are just the average across population, and in reality everyone is so different structurally and functionally. "Average" doesn't mean correct.  Similarly below the average doesn't make it wrong either.  Who decided human beings should move certain ways??  No other animals learn movements from "experts."  I find this very interesting.  Babies/kids don't learn movements the same way we adults do.  How do babies learn to move?  Do they even care about learning movement?  They are just curious about the environment and exploring with their mouth and hands.  Curiosity drives them to explore lots of different movements so they can reach for a toy and bring it to their mouth.  Movements emerge out of these explorations. Adults don't often learn in this manner.  One big disadvantage of corrective exercise is that you could potentially eliminate your authentic movements which some experts call "wrong" movements and are forced to "correct" your movements, which may be "wrong."  In my opinion, no movements are wrong or right.  Even what experts consider ideal movements can be wrong if they're the only movement option available.  What's more beneficial is to expand movement options.  The nervous system is smart enough to figure out what's best in each situation given it has many options.  In my movement education sessions, I guide my students to explore a variety of movement options as opposed to "correcting" their movements.  

Vision and Hearing

One of my clients who recently had a cataract surgery told me that one thing that she noticed immediately after the surgery was that her hearing improved dramatically.  She didn’t really realize that her hearing was affected by her vision until she had the surgery.  Her story reminded me of how much we rely on our vision to interpret verbal contexts.  I can relate this to my own experience as a foreigner.  I’ve been in the States for 18 years and speak English fluently, but even now I sometimes have difficult time with phone conversations because I can’t see their body language or facial expression.  My grandmother was excellent at communicating with the body language. She couldn't speak English at all, but she always made friends and seemed to have very good conversations without speaking at all. From neuroscience, I understand the parts of the brain communicate with each other.  This story is one example.  This makes me wonder how smart phone/computer is influencing our non-verbal communication skills and the brain's functions and development.  Texting is becoming a very common communication method today.  It's convenient and can save us a lot of time, but it can easily deliver wrong message.  

Working with Structures vs Functions

Have you ever wondered why some muscles get tight or weak? Many people are probably told by health care professionals that their muscles are tight so they need to stretch or their muscles are weak so they need to strengthen. But how did muscles become tight or weak? In case of acute tissue trauma, some muscles guard and some muscles become inhibited. Structural changes (acute trauma) cause functional changes. Except for traumatic tissue injuries, muscles don’t suddenly become tight or weak. Muscles and other tissues (ligaments, tendons, fascia, etc.) adapt to imposed demands. Over time tissue structures change based on functional demands placed on them. Structures follow functions.  

Habitual patterns of movement place high demand on some tissues and very little demand on others. Does it make sense to stretch tight muscles or strengthen weak muscles while you’re moving the same way and reinforcing your habitual movement patterns that led to the tightness and weakness?? I think it would make more sense to recognize your habitual movement patterns and train out of those patterns. Most importantly new movement patterns that will lengthen tight muscles and strengthen weak muscles need to be integrated into daily activities. When you start to train movement patterns, you’re no longer separating stretching from strengthening. You’re just working on improving functions, which will lead to improvements in strength and flexibility. Over time, structures will follow functions.

© Taro Iwamoto 2015. Please do not reproduce without the express written consent of Taro Iwamoto.

Motor Performance vs Motor Learning

In fitness and rehab settings, it’s very common for trainers/practitioners to demonstrate exercises and have their clients repeat the exercise  and give them visual/tactile feedback to “correct” their movements before they give their clients a chance to feel/sense how they are moving. While showing them “correct” form of the exercise first and providing them external feedback would allow them to perform the specific motor task quickly, the motor task may not carry over to other functional tasks.
We often confuse motor performance with motor learning. Motor performance is the ability to perform a motor task. Motor learning is to have a carryover between one movement pattern and other functional movement patterns.

I think many people often use external feedback (visual/tactile/auditory) too much and don’t teach clients how to access their internal senses (proprioceptive-kinesthetic sense) to learn how they’re moving. The problem is that clients often don’t know how they are moving and can’t tell when they are moving “wrong.” When they are “corrected” and learn to copy the exact same movement, they still haven’t recognized the pattern of movement. Therefore, they just learned to perform that specific movement well, but they will probably go back to their old habitual patterns when doing functional tasks. I suggest we start directing clients’ attention to certain body parts and helping them become aware of how they are moving in space by asking them questions, before we jump in to put our hands and “correct” their movements. Let them explore movements and make some mistakes and let them make a choice. If we don’t allow them to make any mistake, how would they know what mistakes are? Learning always involves lots of trials and errors. We can help them recognize their mistakes so they can learn from the mistakes. We can become a movement tour guide for them so they don’t get lost.

© Taro Iwamoto 2015. Please do not reproduce without the express written consent of Taro Iwamoto.

 

Changing Habits

In the previous post, I talked about our habits as obstacles for improving our abilities (physical, emotional, and intellectual). If we want to improve our movement abilities, we’ll need to expand our motor habits. We all know that it’s not as simple as it sounds. Let me share my thoughts on this.

In order to change our habits we need to recognize our habits first. What makes it difficult is that habits are for the most part unconscious, so they are invisible. We somehow need to make invisible habits become visible or make them become conscious.

Awareness/proprioceptive-kinesthetic sense is our sixth sense. It allows us to sense and feel our bodies and movements accurately. Without sharp sixth sense we’ll not be able to perceive what we’re doing. This allows our habits to come to the surface and allows us to “see” our habits. This opens the door to new motor habits.

Mindfulness and paying attention to how we’re moving and relationships between body parts, sensations in our bodies and with movements, are ways to sharpen our sixth sense. As we pay close attention to our body and movements, we will start to notice how we use our bodies habitually with each movement. There’s many tricks to improve our awareness, which I will discuss in another blog.
Unfortunately there’s no shortcut to improving our abilities. But, if we can acknowledge this idea and become more aware and mindful of how we move, I’m very confident that we will continue to improve the quality of movement and the quality of life.

© Taro Iwamoto 2015. Please do not reproduce without the express written consent of Taro Iwamoto.

What is limiting our abilities?

Over the past years, I’ve come to realize that we are often limited by our habits. Limitations can be physical, emotional, and intellectual. As a movement educator, I often witness my clients beating their body when they run into physical challenges. What most people tend to do in that situation is that they try to force themselves to overcome the obstacle by will power with their “no pain no gain” mindset. Their mindset is such that if they can’t overcome the obstacle, they’re not trying hard enough; therefore, they will try harder. They may achieve their goal but not without a cost. Or they may fail and give up. This mindset is very common in many cultures. Truth is that “obstacle” is created by our habits. We can ignore this fact and keep driving ourselves with will power and keep exercising our habits until our body can’t keep up anymore. I think it’s our habits that make us move, feel, and think in very limited ways and that make us feel old. We can also make the obstacle disappear by recognizing our habits and creating new habits. This is where movement intelligence comes into play. Learning to create new movement patterns/habits isn’t something we (adults) often do when facing what I call “movement puzzle” or daily situations that challenge us physically.  Instead, we usually try to exercise our old habits and hope to break through the obstacle with strengthened old patterns. This works to some extent, but soon we’ll hit the wall again because we still haven’t realized that our habit keeps creating obstacles.
I’m not saying that habit is devil. Habits are very useful. In fact, if it weren’t for habits, it’d take us too long to do simple daily activities such as brushing teeth, or getting dressed. However, many habits are not serving us well anymore, yet we hold onto them because we’re not even aware of most habits.  I think habit can become our enemy when it’s invisible (we’re not aware) like silent cancer because we cannot recognize what is happening.  If we cannot recognize, we won’t be able to take any actions.